Merriam requests federal commitment on Upper Turkey Creek Project

Merriam has been waiting since 2013 to receive federal assistance for the Upper Turkey Creek Project.

Merriam has asked the federal government to renew its commitment to the Upper Turkey Creek Flood Risk Management Project.

The Merriam council unanimously agreed to submit a resolution to the Army Corps of Engineers to show the city’s continued support to complete the Upper Turkey Creek project. Ultimately, the U.S. Congress will have to approve the project and allocate federal dollars to preliminary engineering and design before any work can be completed.

The Upper Turkey Creek Project is a joint effort between Merriam, the Corps and Johnson County Public Works. The Corps had recently informed Merriam that the project would receive no federal funding this year for engineering and design; the federal agency encouraged the city to request funding for 2019.

Merriam estimated the current total cost for preliminary engineering and design to be $1.4 million. The local share between Merriam and Johnson County would be $490,000 with the county funding 75 percent, leaving Merriam to cover the remaining $122,500.

Kevin Bruemmer, public works director, said there are “no guarantees” that the city will receive the funding this year. A feasibility report was completed in October 2013. Bruemmer said the city has been waiting since then to potentially receive federal funding.

“I’ve actually been told, in no certain terms that even if we jump through all these flaming hoops, so to speak, that we’re still looking at 50/50 chance of being funded in 2019 for preliminary engineering and design only,” Bruemmer said. “There’s no guarantee of (receiving funding for) construction or anything else.”

Mayor Ken Sissom said that once the federal government and Corps begins committing federal funding to engineering and design of the Upper Turkey Creek Project, the project will be more likely to receive funds later for construction.

Bruemmer said the city is “simply asking” for a resolution from the Corps to commit to the project, and not a request for actual funding yet.

Sissom said the goal of the project has always been to bring the area out of the floodplain and save as many businesses as possible in the area. That’s why the city is “treading lightly” in working with federal agencies that had at one point proposed eliminating businesses in the flood plain downtown.

“The federal government’s plan was pretty simple: They were going to take all of those businesses out, and it would be just an area where if it flooded, nobody would care because that’s actually cheaper than what we’re thinking about doing,” Sissom said.